SAN FRANCISCO – All’s well in the Dallas Mavericks’ world now that Luka Doncic is back on the court.
The second-year point guard returned to the starting lineup Thursday night against San Antonio and led the Mavs to a hard-fought 102-98 triumph over the Spurs. With Doncic on the floor and the plethora of ways he can impact a game, opponents have to account for his whereabouts at all times.
Against the Spurs, Doncic had 24 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists while steadying the Mavs’ offensive attack after he missed the previous four games with a right ankle sprain.
“Luka, he did his thing again out there,” forward Kristaps Porzingis said. “He draws so much attention that he gets everybody else open and gets (everybody else) good looks.
“It’s on the rest of us to knock down shots and to make the next play or whatever it is. It was good to have him back, finally.”
The win over the Spurs enabled the Mavs to forget about Sunday’s disappointing loss in Toronto when Dallas blew a 30-point third-quarter lead.
“That was a painful one,” Porzingis said. “Right after the game when I talked to you (media) guys I couldn’t even process it yet. It felt like the game was ours and we just let it slip.”
Indeed, the loss to the Raptors left the Mavs somewhat dazed going into the Christmas break.
“We tried to disconnect a little bit in these few days,” Porzingis said. “(We) spent (time) with our families and got away from basketball for a little bit.
“(Against the Spurs) we wanted to come back and do what we’ve got to do – take the home court and get a win.”
That victory over the Spurs padded the Mavs’ record to 20-10 going into a three-game road trip that starts Saturday in San Francisco at 7:30 p.m. CT against the Golden State Warriors. More importantly, for whatever reasons, the Mavs inexplicably feel right at home on the road.
The only teams who have a better road record than the 11-3 worksheet the Mavs have established are the Los Angeles Lakers (14-3) and Milwaukee Bucks (12-3). And the Mavs have already beaten those two squads on the road.
After facing the Warriors in the opener of a back-to-back, the Mavs will play the Lakers on Sunday at 8:30 p.m. CT and wind up their road trip Tuesday at 7 p.m. CT at Oklahoma City before returning home to entertain the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. CT.
The Warriors (8-24) are tied with the New York Knicks for the second-worst record in the entire NBA, Oklahoma City has won seven of its last 10 games to push its record to 15-15, while the Lakers have the second-best record in the league at 24-7. Thus, conventional wisdom suggest that the Mavs will likely win two of the three games on this road trip.
But as center Maxi Kleber said: “No game for us is guaranteed. Every team can surprise us, so we’ve got to take every game serious and we’ve got to play until the last minute.
“We saw that and we want to learn from Toronto, so this stretch is going to be a good test for us again. We want to keep winning on the road.”
Meanwhile, Porzingis collected five straight double-doubles before producing 13 points and eight rebounds against the Spurs. That left the 7-3 power forward almost apologetic following the win over San Antonio.
“My mindset is I just want to be as selfless as I can out there,” Porzingis said. “Obviously I’m always looking to score and I want to be aggressive, but I want to do what’s best for the team. And if that’s the way we’re effective and we’re good on offense, then I’m with it. And if we’re winning, I’m with it.”
Porzingis just went through a stretch where he manufactured a career-high four straight games where he accumulated at least 20 points and at least 10 rebounds. Thus, he most definitely would like to piggy-back off of that going forward.
“I’m just trying to find my own stuff within the system, and I feel like we’re getting better,” Porzingis said. “We’ve got Luka back also, and it’s mostly on me for me to bring my level up.
“I’ve had a few good games now – maybe a little bit off (Thursday) with my shot. But I feel like the other stuff on the court is pretty good. I made some plays for my teammates and overall I feel like we’re on the right path.”
In reaching the 20-win mark after playing just 30 games this season, the Mavs are 12 games ahead of last season’s pace when they didn’t win their 20th game until they had played 42 games. But this is only a minor goal for the Mavs compared to the much larger goal they’ve established for themselves.
“Our goal is to reach the playoffs, so it’s good for us to keep winning,” Kleber said. “Like I said, every win is important also for positioning. We just want to keep winning.”